Archaeologists Uncover Remains of One of America's Oldest Black Churches

Archaeologists believe they have discovered in Virginia in the United States, the foundations of the original building of the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, one of the oldest black churches in the country. 

The discovery of the foundations of the original building of the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia was announced Thursday, October 7 by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. This is the organization that manages the historic district of the same name. THE

Williamsburg's First Baptist Church was established in 1776 by black slaves and freemen who met in secret, in defiance of laws banning African-American congregations.

"The beginnings of the history of our congregation, started with slaves and black freemen meeting outside in secret in 1776, have always been part of who we are as a community," said Thursday Reverend Reginald F. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church, in a communicated.

“Seeing the actual bricks of this original foundation and the outline of where our ancestors gathered to praise brings this story to life and makes this part of our identity tangible,” added the pastor.

The discovery of the first permanent structure of the church which celebrated its 245th anniversary last weekend comes after a year of excavation at the site. Archaeologists have located a 16-by-20 (approximately 4,8 by 6 meters) brick structure dated to the 1800s that sits next to cobblestones under which an 1817 coin was discovered.

During their search, they also found evidence of at least 25 human burials at the scene.

Jack Gary, archaeological director of Colonial Williamsburg, said he sees the finds as the start of continued research.

“We always hoped that's what we would find. Now we can move forward to better understand the building's footprint. Is this the only structure of the site? What else was there around? What did it look like? How was it used? "

Jody Lynn Allen, assistant professor of history at William & Mary, says the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation "has made serious efforts since the late 1980s to include the African American experience." "With the addition of the First Baptist Church, Christianity, a key part of black life, is now included," says the history professor at the New York Times.

Words that echo those of Cliff Fleet, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation who said that “The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is committed to telling a more complete and inclusive story of the men and women who have lived , worked and worshiped here [at the site of the First Baptist Church] ”.

“The story of this congregation is a story that deserves to be at the forefront of our interpretive and educational efforts, and we are honored to play a role in bringing it to light. »Concluded the president of the foundation.

Camille Westphal Perrier

Image credit: Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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